Council approves new neighborhood

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, December 17, 2015

City Council on Wednesday approved a 44-home development at the southeast corner of the intersection of Bennetts Pasture Road and Driver Lane.

City staff had recommended denial of the request to rezone the land from commercial to residential. Only 97 acres of neighborhood commercial land exist between Bridge Road and Portsmouth Boulevard, and rezoning this lot would eliminate 16 percent of that, acting Director of Planning Bob Goumas said Wednesday.

“The parcel is ideally situated for neighborhood commercial,” Goumas said.

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In 1999, the parcel was rezoned from residential to commercial as part of a citywide rezoning effort. But things have changed since then, said attorney Whitney Saunders, who represented the developer.

“That commercial activity that was anticipated and hoped for has not transpired,” Saunders said. “The property has remained since 1999 on the market as commercial property, and unfortunately there has been no commercial activity that has occurred on the property.”

The closure of the Kings Highway Bridge made it even less likely a commercial operator would want to locate on the site, Saunders noted. In the meantime, more homes have sprung up along Bennetts Pasture Road and its side streets.

The nearby Driver village could suffer if a commercial entity opened on the property, Saunders noted.

“If you put it on this piece of property, I’m afraid that it siphons off a great deal of the opportunity for the people that are trying to make Driver happen in a positive sense,” Saunders said.

The developer will pay about $12,460 per home, for a total of $548,230, for school capacity.

It also has offered traffic improvements, including widening Bennetts Pasture Road and installing a warning light at the intersection of Driver Lane and Bennetts Pasture Road.

“My first reaction was, ‘We don’t need anything at that intersection until we get a light,’” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. But she said the improvements would be the “beginning of a better intersection.”

“There are problems all over the city in intersections or wherever we need to go, and we have to start someplace,” she said.

The project was approved unanimously.